The Cheviot, The Stag and The Black, Black Oil Dundee Rep

Neil Cooper

Five stars

The ceilidh band is already playing as the audience step onto the bare floorboards of Joe Douglas' revival of one of the defining plays of twentieth century Scottish theatre, and the whisky is flowing. Not as a sweetener to encourage the smatterings of audience participation that ripple throughout the show, but as a celebration, both of the play itself and the spirit of artistic and political resistance it continues to define.

First performed in 1973, John McGrath's ribald melding of variety traditions tells the hidden history of how Scotland has been plundered by self-serving capitalists from the Highland Clearances onwards. What could so easily have been rendered as cheeky revivalism becomes in Douglas' heartfelt production for Dundee Rep's Ensemble company a vital statement on the world we live in now and the way very little has changed in terms of who's ruled the roost over the last forty-two years.

At times its series of sketches and routines resemble a radical take on Horrible Histories as Douglas' ten-strong cast lampoon a ghastly set of landowning toffs, corrupt politicians and cowboy oil barons on the fiddle in all their boss class grotesquerie. As a damning portrait of exploitation emerges, the litany of self-justification for social cleansing could have been lifted from a Tory party memo of today.

What is most striking is that, for all the play's consciously roughshod form, beneath its veneer is something expertly crafted, and when the cast sing a final song translated simultaneously from Gaelic, it's a spine-tingling call to arms that needs to be heard across the land right now.